Book Review: Works And Days, Theogony, And The Shield Of Heracles (Poetry)

Works And Days, Theogony, And The Shield Of Heracles (Poetry), translated by Richmond Lattimore

From time to time I like to engage in various syntopical reading projects [1], where I will read multiple books on the same subject to see the differences and distinctions between them.  I found it very intriguing, for example, that my local library system had two versions of what appeared to be the exact same material, and one of them was more than three times the length of the other.  Having previously read a translation from this eminent classicist, I was prepared for this book having some dry and humorous commentary as well as some scholarly depth, and I was not disappointed.  The translator dealt with the question of authorship, made a reasonable (if unproven) speculation about Hesiod being a younger contemporary of Homer, but not by much, and commented on the parallel traditions of Homer and Hesiod in preserving older stories for a contemporary audience.  In reading this book I could understand why this version was so much longer than the prose version, not least because while the stories told were the same, the translator preserved the poetic nature of the text, pointing out what it was that allowed these poems to endure for generations, even if their author is not as famous as many other ones.

Like the prose version, this book is divided into three parts, in the same order, of the same documents.  What differences exist between the prose and poems?  For one, the translator chose to poet the poem for the Works And Days on the right side of the book and some very brief explanations on the left side.  The advice is still generally sound, the superstitions still present, and Hesiod shows himself to be rather harsh to Perses, his intended audience, telling him to work hard and marry around 30.  All things considered the advice is definitely pointed, and that comes off in the poetry a bit easier than in the prose version, which seemed to make it more mild.  Other than that, the Theogony and the Shield of Heracles are similar to the prose account, if a bit less succinct because of the nature of poetry.  At the end of the book there is an attempt to provide a family tree of the Greek gods, which is a nice touch if you are into heathen and imaginary genealogies.

Overall, this is not a book that will likely present difficulties to those who are familiar with the body of Greek myth and especially the greater body of Greek and Near Eastern mythology that forms the larger context for this work.  The translator is himself a very learned scholar and one that is well worth reading, and his comments are entertaining and frequently thought-provoking.  All of this makes for a better reading experience, such that I think it can safely be said that I am interested in reading whatever I find from this person in the future.  A Richmond Lattimore work about the classics appears like a safe bet to enjoy, although I do not know how common such works are these days.  Having read and researched a bit about him, I am aware that he is a noted translator of the Iliad and even the New Testament, I am definitely going to have to keep a close eye on his works in the future.  It may not be necessary to read two translations of Hesiod, but if you only want to read one, and you want to get a sense of how Hesoid wrote, at least as it can best be transmitted in translation, this is a very good option to choose for your reading.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/31/the-syntopticon-project-or-books-about-books/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/01/27/book-review-how-to-read-a-book/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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